Kelly Parsons is a board-certified urologist with degrees from UPenn, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins, and he takes all that surgeon's knowledge and puts it to better use (in my opinion, but I'm biased) with his debut medical thriller, Doing Harm.
We meet chief resident Steve Mitchell, a rising star with a bright surgical future who our reviewer calls "engagingly flawed." But then a patient dies of mysterious circumstances, and the killer starts toying with Steve, threatening his career, his marriage and even his life. And with an actual surgeon behind it, Doing Harm is the perfect blend of authentic hospital atmosphere and tense life-and-death moments.
To find out more about the high-stakes hospital world, we chatted with Kelly Parsons in a Q&A about patients, medical school and the fascinating character of Steve Mitchell—who we're reluctant to trust, or even like. And Parsons agrees:
"Readers shouldn’t necessarily trust Steve. They certainly don’t have to like him. But what I hope they do, on some level, is relate to his dilemma. I want readers to understand why he makes the choices he makes, however flawed those choices may be. The story is essentially about Steve’s moral journey. With some help along the way, Steve finishes the book a much different individual than when he began it."
Doing Harm is out today! Will you check it out?
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
The future of Red Hook, Brooklyn, hinges upon the mysterious events of one sweltering evening, when two teenage girls take a pink raft out onto the river. One returns, bloody and cold. The other is never seen again. The neighborhood—both haunted and headed toward gentrification—is never again the same.
Unfolding through prose both tense and vibrant, Visitation Street races along as it unravels the mystery of June's fate, simultaneously begging for every word to be savored. And while this urgency makes for thrilling read, it also brings to life a chorus of aching characters, each tied to the grungy world of Red Hook, a "neighborhood below sea level and sinking."
Read our review.
It was an exceptional year for mysteries and thrillers! Plenty of murder, tortured heroes and globe-hopping from here to Venice—and beyond. Read on for the 10 best mysteries and thrillers of the year, as chosen by Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney and the editors of BookPage.
Starring an antihero detective with no fixed identity, Hobbs' debut thriller is “what the mystery novel would look like if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had decided that Moriarty was his central character." Noted editor Gary Fisketjon handled the project, and film rights have already been sold.
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Read our full review of The Golden Egg.
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Read our review of A Delicate Truth.
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Read our review of The Abomination.
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Read our full review of How the Light Gets In.
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Read our review of Tatiana.
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Read our review of Death of a Nightingale.
Readers, share in the comments below: What are your favorite 2013 mysteries ad thrillers?
Peter James is the best-selling author of the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace crime series, including Dead Like You and Dead Man's Grip. In the ninth book in the series, Dead Man's Time, the tenacious Brighton cop faces his toughest adversary yet.
In 1922 New York, a young boy named Gavin and his sister board a ship to Dublin. Their mother has been shot and their Irish mobster father abducted. A messenger hands Gavin a watch and a piece of paper bearing a cryptic message. In 2012 Brighton, Roy Grace investigates a burglary, in which an old woman is murdered and a fortune is stolen, including a vintage watch. Grace's investigation into the stolen watch reveals an ancient hatred and a murderous trail spanning the globe.
In a guest post, James recalls the two incidents that inspired Dead Man's Time, plus some insight into Brighton crime:
In July 2011 I was having dinner in New York with a detective friend in the NYPD, Pat Lanigan. Had he ever told me, he asked, that his great-uncle was Dinny Meehan, the feared and ruthless head of the White Hand Gang—the Irish Mafia that controlled the New York and Brooklyn waterfronts, and much else—from the 1850s until the mid-1920s? It was one of the White Hand Gang’s methods of disposing of enemies in the Hudson that led to the expression, "Taking a long walk down a short pier."
Dinny Meehan was responsible for kicking Al Capone and other lieutenants of the Italian Mafia, the Black Hand Gang, out of New York—which is why Capone fetched up in Chicago.
In 1920 five men broke into Meehan’s home in the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, and in front of his 4-year-old son, shot Dinny Meehan and his wife. The wife survived, and the boy went on to become a famous basketball player. The culprits were never identified. There was speculation whether it was a revenge attack organized by Capone or a power struggle within the White Hand Gang from Meehan’s deputy, “Wild Bill” Lovett. Meehan’s widow had no doubts, confronting Lovett in a crowded bar, and he was eventually murdered, too.
Pat Lanigan told me he’d had many approaches over the years for the archive material, which he possessed, but the family did not want this personal information released. However, because of our friendship, he volunteered to let me see, in case it might make a good story for me.
I was riveted by what I had read, and it sparked an idea which grew into Dead Man’s Time, where instead of becoming a basketball player, the boy ends up in Brighton as a hugely successful antiques dealer, and we pick up nine decades later, when he is an old man with memories and a still-unsolved family mystery.
In addition to my New York detective’s story, a major part of the inspiration for this book came from an attempted break-in at my Sussex country home two years ago during the night. Fortunately our three dogs did the trick and sent them running off the premises. The police were of the opinion they may have been targeting our cars—I have a bit of a reputation as a petrol head (!)—but it made me curious about what kind of person today’s house burglar is. Thanks to the Governor of our local Category B Prison, Lewes, I was able to get some insights.
One character in particular who I met was 38 years old, a career high-end car thief. He had started as a kid, for kicks, taking cars on joyrides, then got recruited by an Indian gang operating in London that tasered people in expensive cars, then pulling them out and dumping them by the road side. My character told me that with modern car security systems, it had become extremely difficult to simply steal a car by the old methods of hot-wiring. A recent Audi model could take four hours to start, he told me, so it is much easier to break into a house and simply steal the keys. And of course, while you are inside the house, then you might as well steal some valuables there, too.
On the topic of crime in London, people often ask why I choose to set my novels in a hip seaside resort, rather than a real hotbed of crime. Brighton—the city I grew up in and love passionately, and where I know virtually every street and alley—has long endured the sobriquet of "Crime Capital of the U.K." A journalist friend of mine recounted how, in a pub in Brighton a few years ago, he asked a fellow drinker at the bar if Brighton had a drugs problem. The man thought for a moment, then shook his head and said, “Nah, you can get anything you want here.”
Thanks, Peter! Dead Man's Time is out now, and his previous novel,
Not Dead Yet, is out in paperback!
Don't you just love a great historical mystery? There's nothing like getting sucked into the terrible secrets hiding in the gaslit streets of Dickensian London, the adventure on the deck of the Lusitania or the deadly truths lurking in the catacombs of 1920s Paris.
For readers who just can't get enough, here are our five favorite historical mysteries of the fall:
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Pierre Lemaitre’s American debut novel, Alex, is a dark and arresting crime thriller with a classic noir edge. The story sets off with a jolt when Alex Prévost is abducted near her apartment in Paris. She is then transported to a deserted, rat-infested warehouse and inhumanely trapped inside a wooden crate that hangs six feet above the floor. A quick-thinking, yet haunted police investigator, Camille Verhoeven, is assigned to the case, but he doesn’t have much information to work with. He barely even has a full witness account of the kidnapping. Alex’s tormentor is determined to watch her die, but as the clock ticks away, Camille becomes committed to finding her in time, especially as stranger and stranger clues come to light.
The number of twists and turns in Lemaitre’s novel is incredible. As the pages turn, the question is raised: Is Alex truly a damsel in distress—or a femme fatale?
Watch the action-packed trailer below:
Catherine Coulter's new international thriller series kicks off with The Final Cut, a globe-hopping thriller with nonstop action that introduces Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Nicholas Drummond. In his first adventure, Drummond travels to NYC to investigate the murder of Elaine York, the minder of the crown jewels on display at the Met. Then the diamond centerpiece of the exhibit is stolen by an international thief called the Fox, and it's up to Drummond to retrieve the stolen gem before it's too late.
But Coulter wasn't alone in crafting Scotland Yard's newest hero. She collaborated with best-selling author J.T. Ellison, who shares in a guest post (one of my favorites to date!) the process of collaborating with veteran writer Coulter.
A writer’s career is full of moments. Capital M moments. Writing the first line of your first novel. Finishing said work. Getting an agent, then landing a deal. Seeing your book in print for the first time, then on the bookshelf in your favorite store and your local library. That first fan letter. I could go on and on. Trust me, having moments never gets old.
But some moments are bigger than others. Rewind to May 4, 2012. I’d just accepted a three-book deal with Mira books to continue my Samantha Owens series. (I’ve been writing two books a year for Mira since 2006—my debut, All the Pretty Girls, was released in November 2007.) Decent deal, job security, all the things a writer wants from her career. I went into the weekend very, very happy.
On May 7, all hell broke loose, in all the best possible ways. I received a call from my agent who wanted to give me a heads up that Catherine Coulter was about to call me and offer me a job. Cue sheer, unadulterated panic. I knew my name was in the mix for Catherine’s co-writing gig, but so were a lot of others very talented authors, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t ever imagine she would pick me! As pie-in-the-sky dream jobs go, this one ranked up there. I mean, we're talking about Catherine Coulter! I’ve been a fan of Catherine’s books for years—since I read The Cove, and I especially love Savich and Sherlock—and the idea of working with her on a book both scared and thrilled me. Co-writing is a big decision, for both the writers. I was immediately plagued with worry. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I was?
Before I could spin myself into a frenzy, the phone rang again. It was Catherine, and all worry was laid to rest. The first thing that struck me was her laugh. She has the most wondrous, wicked sense of humor. She said some very nice things about my writing, and how complimentary our styles were, which turned out to be hugely important down the road, laid out the plan for the books, what she wanted to do, how she wanted to do it, the characters, the series, everything. I was so impressed by how smartly she’d planned all of it. She knew exactly what she wanted, and I knew immediately we were going to have a good time, and I was going to get an education. So I accepted on the spot.
And suddenly had five books under contract over the course of three days. Moments that turn momentous, indeed.
After a fine bit of juggling with my editors and agent, Catherine and I made arrangements for me to fly to California to meet with her, plot out the book and generally get to know one another. Happily, we found out we have so much in common, so many congruous interests and opinions, that a friendship blossomed immediately.
And that friendship got us through the first few months, when we made pretty much every mistake possible. The Final Cut was my 12th novel, but it felt like my first many times as we sailed into uncharted territory of joint creation. As similar as our writing styles and work ethic are, we still had differences, and we needed to get used to those. Which we did, of course, ultimately parlaying our differences in style into the book’s strengths.
My biggest issue was writing in another author’s voice. I found it an incredible challenge. Catherine’s funnier and lighter than me—I’m a naturally dark, introspective writer—so I had to work twice as hard to both draft the story and find her voice. But find it I did, and the book came together quickly after that. There was a moment (see, they crop up everywhere!) toward the end of the first revision of the book when we were on the phone literally writing together, each contributing words to the sentences, and it was sheer magic. Magic I think comes across quite clearly in The Final Cut.
You have to have a lot of faith and trust in your co-writer to do this, and from the moment I met Catherine, I knew I could trust her, and I know she feels the same. She’s a writer’s writer, which I greatly respect. We have a similar work ethic – there’s no nonsense, no prevaricating, we just get down to it every day and make the words flow, and I think that was a big part of our success with The Final Cut. You absolutely can’t have a successful collaboration if you put a Type A writer with a Type B writer. You’d drive each other crazy.
This experience has been incredibly rewarding. One day, when I have 70 or so books under MY belt, I hope to repay the favor by doing the same thing, bringing another writer along for the ride. For now, I know our moment is just beginning. And I can’t wait to see where it leads us.
Thanks, J.T.! Readers, The Final Cut is on sale today!
This fall's publishing season has a lot of abduction thrillers, an especially creepy trend considering the real-life stories of the three women in Ohio who were found this year after being held in captivity for a decade. One of the best of these abduction thrillers is Carla Norton's debut, The Edge of Normal, the story of a former kidnapping victim who uses her experience to help a fellow victim.
Norton is also the author of the true crime bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box, which details the true story of Colleen Stan, a 20-year-old girl who was kidnapped and tortured in captivity for seven years. Norton's true crime expertise and research into a real kidnapping situation set her apart from most other authors of abduction thrillers, so I hoped a Q&A with Norton would help illuminate the "why" of this trend.
Check out my Q&A with Norton, where we discussed the nature of evil, the process of writing true crime vs. fiction, the exploitation of victims and much more. Norton didn't hold back:
Do you look at the world any differently after writing these books?
I suppose writing about crime heightens your paranoia. And while some of my characters may not like certain legal institutions or members of law enforcement, I have tremendous respect [for] those who give up their time to do their civic duty and those who risk their lives in law enforcement. When a killer comes through your window, who do you call? Who is going to come to help? Seriously, those people face dangers we don’t even want to see on the page.
Also, true confession: I keep a copy of Perfect Victim in my car. When I spot the occasional female hitchhiker, I offer a ride on the condition that she’ll read the book, and then I lecture sternly about the perils of hitchhiking.
It’s often said that a writer must have compassion toward all of their characters, but Duke is a villain of the vilest sort. How were you able to write about a person who will elicit absolutely no empathy from the reader?
This might be the biggest difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. I found Duke very entertaining, so maybe it’s not a question so much of having “compassion” for your characters as it is enjoying some aspect of them. Hannibal Lector would have been repulsive in real life, but he’s fascinating on the page.
While you wouldn’t personally want to spend time with these people, you want to create fearsome villains to drive the story. Character is revealed through conflict, so you want to set your protagonist in opposition to a frightening antagonist—a David-and-Goliath-type dynamic—and that’s what I was aiming for with Reeve and Duke.
Read more here. The Edge of Normal is out today! Will you check it out? Do you read abduction thrillers?
John Rector, author of Already Gone and The Cold Kiss, has started to make quite a name for himself in the suspense genre. Already Gone was nominated last year for an International Thriller Award, and after his novella Lost Things won the 2013 Thriller Award for Best Short Story. In a guest post for BookPage, Rector introduces his newest thriller, Out of the Black, and discusses his climb to writing success.
I was at a convention once where I heard a writer tell a group of people that publishing a novel was similar to what Lewis and Clark must’ve felt when they crossed the Rocky Mountains for the first time. They believed that once they passed that first line of mountains, it would be downhill all the way to the Pacific. But when they got to the top and looked out, all they saw were more mountains, an endless blue stretch fading out toward the horizon.
I don’t think writing a novel is quite the same as the Lewis and Clark expedition, but I understand the analogy.
When you’re a working writer, there is no end goal, only an endless string of peaks and valleys. You climb one, and there’s another one right there waiting for you. All you can do is keep writing, keep moving forward. Scale the peak in front of you and try to survive the desert valley on your way to the next.
This constant struggle isn’t a bad thing. It’s exactly how it should be, but it can be shocking for a lot of newly published writers who, having climbed that first impossible peak, naively believe they’ve arrived.
At least that’s how it was for me.
My first peak came in the spring of 2009 when I got a call from my agent telling me Tor/Forge had made an offer to publish my novel, The Cold Kiss. I’d written one previous novel, The Grove, but it hadn’t sold. Publishers told me that it was too in-between genres, that if chain stores couldn’t figure out where to place it on their shelves, they weren’t going to buy it.
It was disappointing, but I didn’t see any reason to cry about it. What I did instead was write another book, this time with a specific genre in mind. I started working on a bleak, claustrophobic noir tale about a young couple trapped in a roadside motel during a vicious Iowa blizzard.
The Cold Kiss was a suspense novel with heavy noir overtones. When I finished and read through what I’d written, I was worried it would be too dark. Fortunately, that fear was unfounded, and after an excruciatingly long wait, Tor/Forge bought the rights to The Cold Kiss and agreed to publish the book in the U.S.
A few weeks later, Simon & Schuster stepped in and bought the rights, along with The Grove, and a third, unwritten novel, to publish in the U.K.
I was thrilled.
I’d reached that first peak, and for a while things were perfect, but it didn’t take long to realize that the mountain I’d scaled was nothing more than a crowded jumping off point. The real challenge was still ahead.
My focus immediately shifted from getting published to staying published. The problem, as I saw it, was that I had no following, no readers, and a strong aversion to social media and self-promotion. But I also felt that I was coming into the industry at the perfect time. New players and new technology were opening doors for writers that didn’t exist a few years earlier. And while this experimentation made me nervous, all I had to do was look around at the path I was on to see that it was littered with the corpses of talented writers who’d come before me, but who were unable to find an audience. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what my future held if I didn’t try something new.
When I finished my next novel, I turned down a good offer from Tor/Forge and signed a deal with Thomas & Mercer. I’m still with them, and I’ve never looked back.
So far, three of my books have been optioned for film, and my third novel, Already Gone, hit the top ten on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Already Gone was also nominated for an International Thriller award in 2012. I didn’t win, but the nomination was a wonderful validation.
I followed Already Gone with a dark, Hitchcock-ian novella called Lost Things. I liked the book, and readers seemed to like it, too, but it was short, and I didn’t expect much.
Then, earlier this year, while working on edits for my new novel, Out of the Black, I got word that Lost Things had been nominated for an International Thriller Award. So, I packed a bag, hopped a plane, and flew to New York. But unlike the year before with Already Gone, this time I won.
The award is nice, beautiful actually, and it looks damn fine on my shelf. It’s my first major award, and the recognition from my peers means more to me than I can say, but I’ve also learned enough to know that when you’re standing on one of your peaks, it’s not the actual awards or book deals or film options that keep you going.
It’s the view.
There are a lot of good things about this job, but the great things only come around once in a while. If you’re a writer standing on the summit of one of your peaks, I can’t stress enough how important it is to take a minute to look around and breathe. Look back at where you started and what you’ve accomplished, then focus on the horizon and what’s coming next. Let the view recharge you, and then get back to work. Keep writing. Keep moving forward. Because there’s always another peak out there, waiting.
And that’s exactly how it should be.
Thanks, John! Out of the Black is out in bookstores today.
Write what you know? Many writers get their inspiration from where they know. Author Reavis Z. Wortham's Red River mysteries are set in a fictionalized version of Chicota, Texas, where he grew up. In a guest post, Wortham talks about the good people of Texas and the flavor of his Texan setting, and gives a preview of the newest book in his series, The Right Side of Wrong.
As my writing career has progressed, I’ve come to realize the setting has become just as much a character as Constable Ned Parker et al. in the Red River mystery series. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but the rural, bordering counties along the river in northeast Texas are alive and well in my memories of the 1960s. My family roots are from that area, and their stories from that time and location are the reason I began this series.
The '60s were a time of change as this country evolved from a primarily rural society to an urban environment. Though the U.S. race to the moon was well underway, a large part of the population still scratched a hard living from the ground. In The Right Side of Wrong, the small community of Center Springs is a microcosm of life and the social and civil changes going on in this country. In addition, this setting is flavored with the speech patterns that define the small community of Center Springs where American Indians, “coloreds,” and the white population struggle to co-exist in a rapidly changing world.
It was the land that defined them.
It was the rural location that encapsulated them.
It was a time between two worlds, as their rural roots withered under the tidal wave of urban change.
My first book in this series set in 1964, The Rock Hole, came about because I wanted to preserve the memory of those coming-of-age years when I was 10. The speech patterns, old words, the simple and changing lifestyle and, of course, the stories told on the porch of that little country store were quickly fading as the old folks passed on.
See, here’s the deal. I believe my mysteries hold the reader’s interest because it’s the land that makes the good, moral characters what they are. Both men and women back then were strong. They stood up for themselves and their neighbors, and they learned the difference between right and wrong from their parents, grandparents, neighbors, and in the tiny clapboard churches that called them to worship every time the doors opened.
In each of my three novels, evil is eliminated when good, honest people cross to the right side of wrong. That’s where Ned Parker comes in. He’s both a farmer and a constable, and a Renaissance man. In a world filled with bigotry and hatred, Ned is simply a decent person who surrounds himself with noble Texans, such as Deputy John Washington, the first “colored” deputy in my fictional Lamar County.
Both of these strong, caring and fair men come from old-fashioned root stock. Big John and Ned are also human, in every sense of the word, and live to defend their community against whatever may come. In their own way, they always try to do the right thing.
Ned, kinfolk Constable Cody Parker and Big John forge strong bonds as this series progresses. In Burrows, John and Cody find themselves trapped in a five story Cotton Exchange warehouse full of garbage. It is a hoarder’s world á la Stephen King. In fact, someone said it was Stephen King meets Harper Lee. To survive their horror and find a serial killer in the monstrous building John and Cody learn to rely on each other without question. It is a bond Ned and John welded years earlier, and now Cody comes into the fold.
In The Right Side of Wrong, Constable Cody Parker follows his main drug smuggler across the Rio Grande into Mexico and is thrown into a prison run by a crooked officer. Ned and John traverse the Lone Star state, and that took some doing back in 1966. When they reach the Rio Grande, a far different artery than their Red River, they find themselves in a radically different culture than their own, but at the same time, they find good people south of the border.
I think you’ll also find the setting in Mexico has also influenced inhabitants of that country, both good and bad. Like those on the Red River, the people who live across the Rio Grande are also defined by the land, but despite the corruption, most mirror their good neighbors to the north.
The land is in the people, it shapes them, and it provides the background for the mysteries in all of us.
Thanks, Reavis! The Right Side of Wrong (Poisoned Pen Press) is out now.